Growth in Virginia’s forests exceeds harvests, which is good for carbon sequestration and forest sustainability, according to the college’s Center for Natural Resources Assessment and Decision Support. However, the center’s assessment of the commercial wood supply in Virginia revealed significant pressure on younger, small-diameter trees commonly used for manufacturing paper, wood pellets, and some wood composites.

The center focused its research on the privately owned forest resource, which provides over 95 percent of the state’s commercial wood supply. “Virginia’s private forests annually grow 86 percent more wood than is harvested, leading to increasing inventories and ongoing removal of carbon from the atmosphere in excess of what is used for products and energy,” said Stephen Prisley, center director.

However, harvest of smaller trees, termed pulpwood, exceeded growth by 2.4 million tons in 2011. Demand for pulpwood is increasing owing to its use as a renewable energy source, such as feedstock for electricity production both in Virginia and overseas. “If demand for one portion of the forest resource continues to exceed growth, supply shortages will lead to higher costs for buyers and impacts on other related resources,” Prisley explained. “For example, increased competition for pulpwood means that buyers may have to seek out higher priced trees that are suitable for lumber, impacting those markets as well.”

The assessment report points to opportunities that exist for active forest management, accelerated reforestation, and increased outreach and support for private forest landowners to mitigate the long-term impacts of this situation. Research in the college has shown that more intensive management will dramatically increase forest productivity, “but such efforts are time critical, since there is a lag between implementation and harvest,” Prisley said.